How Do Whistleblower Protections Impact The Safety Of Consumer Products?

By Prev Info - October 18, 2022

Perhaps one of the most famous whistleblowers whose actions had a significant impact on public health was Jeffrey Wigand. At the time an executive and research director at one of America’s largest tobacco companies, Brown & Williamson, Wigand conducted a series of televised interviews in the mid-1990s exposing how it had increased the addictiveness of its products by enhancing them with carcinogenic chemicals that accelerated the impact of nicotine on the body. Moreover, the company had claimed for years that cigarettes were neither hazardous to consumers’ health nor nicotine addictive.

More recently, the deceptive and dangerous practices of the pharmaceutical company Pfizer were exposed by one of its sales representatives in 2003. While working for the company in the 1990s, John Kopchinski was encouraged to market the painkiller Bextra to doctors for uses and in doses the government had not approved. While doctors can prescribe drugs for uses other than for which they were approved, pharmaceutical companies cannot market them for unapproved uses.

Given the risks associated with the drug, including of adverse cardiovascular events and potentially fatal skin reactions, encouraging doctors to start patients on doses eight times greater than recommended for surgical procedures could have posed a significant risk to the public.

In many cases, including these, employers retaliate against workers for exposing their illegal practices. Executives at Brown & Williamson hired a prestigious law firm to sue Jeffrey Wigand, investigators to study his past and present actions, and a public relations consultant to spread damaging rumors and stories about him. Pfizer fired John Kopchinski when he questioned its marketing strategies—an act considered retaliatory and a violation of the federal False Claims Act.

Recognizing the role employees play in exposing potentially harmful company practices, the federal government created The Whistleblower Protection Program. Supervised by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the program ensures employees will not be subjected to personally injurious consequences when they report employer wrongdoing. Additional information about these protections can be found at Moreover, many states, including California, have their own laws concerning whistleblower protections, explains a lawyer.



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